Alastair Mactaggart, a real-estate developer whose state ballot initiative in 2018 led to new privacy rules, is pushing to make that legislation harder to weaken. PHOTO: AL DRAGO/BLOOMBERG NEWS


Activist Behind California’s New Privacy Law Already Wants to Improve It

par Featured articles licensed from The Wall Street Journal | le 30 December 2019




Alastair Mactaggart aims to tighten data rules that business groups backed by Facebook and Google have protested


Sebastian Herrera – The Wall Street Journal

California’s law aimed at helping people control their personal information goes into effect Jan. 1, but the privacy activist who spearheaded the new rules is already seeking to strengthen them.

Alastair Mactaggart, the real-estate developer whose state ballot initiative in 2018 led to the California Consumer Privacy Act, said he is pushing anew this year to improve the existing legislation and make it harder to modify.

“It’s an evolution,” Mr. Mactaggart said in an interview. “We are in the beginning.”

Starting Jan. 1, consumers in California will have the right to request from businesses any personal information that is being collected from them and ask for that data to be deleted and not sold. The law’s passage in June 2018 inspired efforts at privacy legislation across the country, including at the federal level.

But trade groups such as the Internet Association, which represents Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc. ’s Google and other large tech companies, campaigned to minimize the effects of the CCPA. Consumer advocates say those efforts helped weaken the new rules, making it harder for consumers to challenge companies. Some advocates have sought to strengthen the law through amendments. In response, the Internet Association spent more than half a million dollars in the first nine months of 2019, public records show.

The Internet Association effectively fought against one amendment bill during this year’s legislative session that would have allowed consumers to pursue legal action based on the law’s statutes. Now that right will only exist in certain cases of negligent data breaches. The trade group also successfully defeated another bill that would have automatically opted users out of having their personal information sold. The CCPA puts the burden on consumers to communicate their desires regarding their data.

“What we saw in California is what we are seeing nationally,” said Jacob Snow, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “Company and other industry interests are making huge efforts to stop laws that protect people’s privacy.”

Mr. Mactaggart said his 2020 state ballot initiative, among other things, would create a state enforcement agency, limit targeted advertisements based on geolocation and add items covered by the “negligent data breach” section, which would allow consumers to pursue legal action in more instances of a hack.

Most significantly, Mr. Mactaggart said, his new effort would make it harder to adjust the current law any further. The initiative includes a “purpose and intent” section that requires any amendment to the law to be in the service of protecting consumers’ rights to privacy, a legally binding clause that Mr. Mactaggart said would prevent industry from chipping away at the measure.

The Internet Association has said the law’s broad definitions of consumers and transactions made it difficult to understand and that companies have had to devote substantial resources to compliance.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said after the CCPA was passed that she supported the law, and this month the company said it is ready for the new rules to take effect.

The social-media giant said it welcomes further discussion about how best to expand users’ privacy rights and pointed to several long-term investments to help people understand and manage their data choices. That includes building self-serve tools that let people access, download and delete their information.

Facebook also has said the law doesn’t define many common web activities as a sale of data, a point that privacy experts dispute. Smaller data-driven companies are expected to adopt Facebook’s stance, advertisement experts and lawyers say.

A Google spokeswoman said the company is updating its policies and processes to comply with the CCPA’s requirements, “including providing transparency and control to people around their personal information, which we have offered to our users for years.”

Tech firms have stepped up overall lobbying efforts this year as state and federal regulators increased scrutiny of companies’ privacy policies and potentially anticompetitive behavior. In the first nine months of 2019, Facebook spent $12.3 million on tech industry lobbying, nearly 25% more than in the same period in 2018.

The lobbying against Mr. Mactaggart’s earlier initiative kept it from the ballot in 2018, and legislators instead passed the privacy law. “It was the right thing to do because there was no guarantee at the ballot box,” Mr. Mactaggart said of his agreement to drop his measure. “Now, it’s different because we have the law.”

Mr. Mactaggart said he would do whatever it takes to pass his initiative next year, including spending millions of his own money. He bankrolled his last campaign almost entirely himself, spending more than $3 million. Mr. Mactaggart will have to collect more than 623,000 signatures for his new initiative to qualify for the ballot. A survey in October by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research of 777 registered voters in California found that most supported Mr. Mactaggart’s initiative.

With increased regulatory and public scrutiny over data privacy, Mr. Mactaggart said he believes society is awakening to the issue.

“These companies at this point can’t say, ‘Oh no, we have this handled,’” he said. “People are now aware. People understand.”